Main content
This programme is not currently available on BBC iPlayer

Railway Nation: A Journey in Verse

Following in the footsteps of WH Auden's 1936 documentary Night Mail, six of Britain's best poets take the train from London to Glasgow, capturing the journey in verse.

In 1936, poet WH Auden and composer Benjamin Britten made a classic documentary about a train travelling across Britain - Night Mail. Now, 80 years on, six of Britain's best poets travel in Auden's footsteps, capturing, in verse, the human stories of those on board the west coast main line. Uncovering stories of love, loss and longing, their poems will ask who we are today through the journeys we make.

As the train hurtles across the country, a relay of poets will climb aboard to record each region. British-Egyptian poet and playwright, Sabrina Mahfouz (Fringe First Award, Sky Arts Futures Fund Award) will capture the journey out of London. Michael Symmons Roberts (Forward Prize, Costa Prize, Whitbread Prize) narrates Milton Keynes to Birmingham. Black Country-born Liz Berry (Somerset Maugham Award, Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award, Forward Prize) takes us from Birmingham to Crewe. Barnsley-bred Andrew McMillan (winner of Guardian First Book Award and Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize) narrates from Crewe to Carlise. And Pakistan-born, Glasgow-bred Imtiaz Dharker (Queen's Gold Medal for poetry) closes the journey, travelling from Carlisle to Glasgow. Sean O'Brien (Cholmondeley Award, Eric Gregory Award, TS Eliot Award) has composed a new poem that links the journey together. His words are spoken by Maxine Peake.

80 years ago, Auden explored why people write letters. The train today is a microcosm of all of Britain. This landmark film asks why - despite email, text and mobile phone - we are travelling in greater numbers than ever before. Through poets' narration, we are revealed to ourselves as we travel urgently, hopefully, despairingly towards our destinations.

59 minutes

Last on

Mon 22 Mar 2021 02:50


Role Contributor
Narrator Maxine Peake
Participant Liz Berry
Participant Imtiaz Dharker
Participant Sabrina Mahfouz
Participant Andrew McMillan
Participant Sean O'Brien
Participant Michael Symmons Roberts
Executive Producer Alistair Pegg
Producer Joe Fowler
Director James House
Production Company Blast! Films